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Older Couples at Risk for Murder/Suicide

Professor finds desperate husbands are killing ailing wives, then themselves

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 31, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A large number of murder-suicides occur between older couples and often involve an elderly man killing his wife and then turning the gun on himself, a University of South Florida researcher has found.

Each year, between 1,500 and 2,500 Americans die in a murder/suicide. Older people account for 500 to 900 of these tragic deaths, says Donna Cohen, a professor with the university's Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute.

A national survey of newspapers found that elderly people committed 21 percent of the murder/suicides during the first six months of 2001, Cohen says. In Florida, the number was even higher, with 40 percent of such crimes being committed by seniors.

Cohen's research has shown that generally the husband is suffering from depression and is the caretaker of a wife sick with Alzheimer's disease or some other debilitating condition. On top of that, the man is facing either his own increasing disability or an impending move to a nursing home.

"What may at first appear as an act of love and mercy is more likely an act of depression and desperation," says Cohen. "These acts are not impulsive. Normally, the man has been planning the event for a long time, and most of these tragedies occur in the home rather than in hospitals or nursing homes."

Cohen urges doctors, family members and friends to spend more time with the elderly to assess their mental well-being and the strain a caregiver might be under.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about depression in the elderly.

SOURCES University of South Florida, news release, Dec. 24, 2003
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